As part of the upcoming expansion of the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center in the Rainey Street District of downtown Austin, we’re finally getting a park on the city-owned scrap of land at 64 Rainey Street. The fate of this 0.27-acre parcel became a hot topic of discussion starting roughly a decade ago, as the MACC and developers of the adjacent 70 Rainey condo tower triangulated its future in the rapidly-gentrifying context of the neighborhood — now, as the district contemplates the tallest tower in the state, can the design of this small space satisfy everyone? Well, probably not, but the city’s trying its best with the kickoff of a community engagement process for the planning of the park at a number of events starting later this month.
Under the guidance of City Council Resolution no. 20220609-123, the Parks and Recreation Department is collaborating with the MACC Board to conduct a community meeting to receive feedback on what should be included in the future development of the parkland at 64 Rainey Street. In addition to creating the community meeting for feedback, this community engagement plan will outline the process for developing the community meeting outline and run of show, outreach to community, and the materials after the meeting.
The list of elements in the Resolution identified outcomes from previous community feedback, including the following:
- Historic markers;
- Family stories narrated through sidewalk panels;
- Metal papel picado artwork that could be affixed to lampposts;
- Mural(s) possibly recreating some of Raul Valdez’s murals destroyed with the demolition of the Juarez Lincoln Building;
- Art and storytelling elements in the 64 Rainey Street park space; and
- A grand entrance (gran entrada) for the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center (ESB-MACC).
— Austin Parks and Recreation Department
Although it’s a relatively small piece of land, we think its location makes the future of this park incredibly important to the overall fabric of the district. While the iconic nature of the MACC’s architecture and the potential of its pending expansion is self-evident, in many ways the facility’s design is turned away from its surroundings, the site’s layout focused inward and isolated from the rest of the area by pavement and parking. This probably isn’t an accident, as the center constitutes a sort of cultural embassy preserving the working-class Mexican American history of the neighborhood despite the huge changes we’ve seen since Rainey’s incorporation into downtown — but the orientation of the 64 Rainey Street property, effectively bridging the gap between the center and the most active pedestrian corridor of the neighborhood’s newer development, represents an opportunity to bring both pieces together in a way that enhances the entire built environment of the Rainey Street District.
Although the design of the MACC’s expansion largely imagines this space as the new gran entrada of the center, we hope its design doesn’t end up making the park simply look like an extension of the existing facility — this space needs elements that attract people off the sidewalk if we want to effectively bring down the imaginary wall separating the center from nearby residential buildings and the entertainment district of Rainey Street itself. That includes amenities that appeal to both the event programming needs of the center, and the daily lives of the people either calling the district home or visiting its nearby bars and restaurants.
A view of the same site in 2009, if you want to feel extremely old.
For years, advocates for the MACC have rightfully expressed concern that the growth of Rainey will eventually encroach on the center, but with plans for this cultural landmark’s expansion seemingly ready to roll, the opportunity for 64 Rainey is now precisely the opposite — the center can instead spread itself to Rainey Street in a distinctly positive way, establishing a permanent, visible presence in the entertainment district serving a very different purpose than residential towers or bars but still enhancing the neighborhood’s current context. Even with that general idea in mind, we’re not sure what we’d like to see done with the space other than the current priorities named by the city — so we’re asking our readers via the survey below: